VIDEO GAME REVIEW
Defying Game PlayBy Jumaane Jeffries
Published by Sega, for Dreamcast
Requires 64 blocks, Visual Memory Unit
ESRB Rating: Teen
Every once in a while, a game comes along that redefines game play. Even more rare is a game that actually defies game play -- take Seaman, Sega’s unique foray into animal-care simulation. Seaman joins the ranks with such previously unclassifiable breakthroughs like Virtua Fighter, Top Skater, the holographic Time Traveler, Ecco the Dolphin, and the online-ready Chu Chu Rocket. After such groundbreaking games and bold consoles like Sega CD, 32X, and Saturn, it’s no wonder why Sega should change its slogan to, “We’ll pretty much try anything.”
In Seaman, you assume the role of a scientist and caretaker of a large tank that initially contains a collection of small spores. Using various resources, you are to assure that the spores evolve into the Seamen, and raise them until one of them becomes fully grown. Think of Seamen as extreme amphibians; they begin as tiny spores to start the game, and eventually evolve into fish with human faces that speak English. Ultimately, the survivor sprouts arms, legs, and lungs, becoming in effect a human with scales that no longer needs your care.
At first glance, this seems to be just a 128-bit Tamagotchi, but the game comes equipped with a microphone, which allows you to participate in the Seamen’s emotional development as well as their growth. Seaman, in fact, is the first voice-recognition game ever made, allowing you to have substantial (if not quite awkward) conversation with them once their vocabulary is expansive enough. Of course, the role of English teacher is yours, and you must use simple phrases to teach, like “hello” and “I love you,” in the initial stages of the Seaman’s life (although there is no evidence that the Seaman will not learn English otherwise). The Seaman potentially learns up to 12,000 words.
Much like the Seaman itself, the game gradually changes in complexity as the days pass. Initially, after ensuring the birth of the Seaman, you only have to maintain the tank’s oxygen supply, temperature level, and cleanliness, as well as feed the Seaman. Soon after natural selection occurs (which is a nice way of saying that the Seaman also doubles as ruthless cannibalistic vampires), you are given an insect cage from which you must raise larvae (that oddly enough also have human faces) to feed to the Seaman. In addition, you can tickle, hypnotize, pluck, and pick up the Seaman from their cage to stimulate them.
This is a rather slow-paced game, but fortunately you don’t have to be there for all of it; the Seaman’s environment continues to exist when your Dreamcast is off. Though you may only have to visit your favorite amphibians perhaps twice a day, this probably shouldn’t rank high in priority during, say, a semester.